She took the picture in silence, and for a long moment stared down at the soft little face, so fearless, so confident and gay, that smiled appealingly back at her. Then she did something astonishing,—something which seemed to him wholly un-English,—and yet he thought it the sweetest thing he had ever seen. Cupping her strong hands about the picture with a quick protectiveness, she suddenly raised it to her lips, and kissed it lightly. “O little girl!” she cried. “I hope you will be very happy!”
The little involuntary act, so tender, so sisterly and spontaneous, touched the Virginian extremely.
“Thanks, awfully,” he said unsteadily. “She’ll think a lot of that, just as I do—and I know she’d wish you the same.”
She made no reply to that, and as she handed the picture back to him, he saw that her hands were trembling, and he had a sudden conviction that, if she had been Sally Berkeley, her eyes would have been full of tears. As she was Sybil Gaylord, however, there were no tears there, only a look that he never forgot. The look of one much older, protective, maternal almost, and as if she were gazing back at Sally Berkeley and himself from a long way ahead on the road of life. He supposed it was the way most English people felt nowadays. He had surprised it so often on all their faces, that he could not help speaking of it.
“You all think we Americans are awfully young and raw, don’t you?” he questioned.
“Oh, no, not that,” she deprecated. “Young perhaps for these days, yes—but it is more that you—that your country is so—so unsuffered. And we don’t want you to suffer!” she added quickly.
Yes, that was it! He understood now, and, heavens, how fine it was! Old England was wounded deep—deep. What she suffered herself she was too proud to show; but out of it she wrought a great maternal care for the newcomer. Yes, it was fine—he hoped his country would understand.
Miss Gaylord rose. “There are Gerald and father looking for you,” she said, “and I must go now.” She held out her hand. “Thank you for letting me see her picture, and for everything you said about Captain Sherwood—for everything, remember—I want you to remember.”
With a light pressure of her fingers she was gone, slipping away through the shrubbery, and he did not see her again.
So he came to his last morning at Bishopsthorpe; and as he dressed, he wished it could have been different; that he were not still conscious of that baffling wall of reserve between himself and Chev’s people, for whom, despite all, he had come to have a real affection.
In the breakfast-room he found them all assembled, and his last meal there seemed to him as constrained and difficult as any that had preceded it. It was over finally, however, and in a few minutes he would be leaving.
“I can never thank you enough for the splendid time I’ve had here,” he said as he rose. “I’ll be seeing Chev to-morrow, and I’ll tell him all about everything.”